04.12.15

Energy Compliance: CI and Reducing the Environmental Impact of Energy Use

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While geologists may debate the validity of the Human era, or Anthropocene – derived from anthropo, for “man,” and cene, for “new”, the effects of our collective civilisation on the planet are undeniable.

The evidence of our existence can be seen from the depths of space as the light from our cities illuminates patterns in the earth’s shadow, and can be detected in the soil record from manmade atomic isotopes that will most likely persist for millions of years into the future. We are shaping the planet in a lasting way. Environmental scientists agree that the effects of our learning curve with creating, storing, and distributing energy may have caused irrevocable damage to the global environment. Whether you think of us as masters of the environment, or parasites grown out of control is beside the point. Through our efforts and energy, we have fundamentally altered this planet. The question is, can we use our energy wisely to preserve it?

Altering your environment takes energy, and lots of it. Varying estimates suggest building the ‘Great Wall of China’ took nearly 7.8 million workers, billions of pounds of rice, hundreds of miles of converted farmland, and more than 60 million tons of quarried stone—all over the course of 2,000 years. Contrary to popular myth, the Great Wall is not visible from space, at least not to the unaided eye, but it’s still an impressive example of directed use of resources to alter a significant portion of one civilization’s environment. But what if you could compare the human energy to a modern equivalency? Dr. David Pimentel, of Cornell University, states, “… the 38,000 kcal in one gallon of gasoline can be transformed into 8.8 KWh, which is about three weeks of human work equivalent.” Accounting for the number of simultaneous workers, the gas conversion process, and downtime between dynasties, it would have taken approximately 577 million gallons of gas.

Today, the United States alone uses about 375 million gallons of gas each day. But gasoline is only a portion of our energy usage that generally pertains to combustion motors, and only accounts for about 28% of US energy consumption. The effect of all these vehicles accounts for about 11.5% of carbon emissions in the US. While that may seem like a lot, it’s important to consider that the US accounts for 1/3 of the world’s automobiles.When we look at this on a global level, transportation accounts for around 20% of total energy use.

When we want to look at the biggest use of energy and source of carbon emissions on the planet today, we need look no further than the room we are standing in at any given moment. Electricity generation, and the need for it, is driving the very nature of the lasting impact humans will leave on this earth. Globally, around 36% of all energy goes toward generating electricity for residential use – of that, only about 72% is usable electricity, the rest is lost during transmission and generation. Furthermore, more than half of usable electricity is never actually used. The total wasted energy in the US alone (including unused electricity) is about 60 Quads, or 60 X 1015 British Thermal Units (BTUs), or 63.3 X 1018 joules. In the EU, that number is closer to 16 quads.

What does that amount of energy equal? From a mathematical perspective, it would be enough energy to put the Statue of Liberty into low earth orbit about 80 times every year. Reducing wasted energy at this level is the topic of numerous multi-national summits by multiple multi-national organizations, and NGO’s, and will require significant advancements in energy efficiency from the extraction level to the local grid.

But what about the energy that actually reaches us in our homes? According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, in the last couple of decades, Americans have shifted their home energy consumption from space heating toward appliances, electronics, and lighting. Developed countries in the Northern hemisphere report similar findings.  While overall energy has gone up about 1.7%, the drop in energy consumption in space heating represents nearly 11% of the total energy consumed in US households in 1993. In more tangible terms, the reduction in energy from heating is the equivalent energy produced by all the roof-top solar panels in all of California, combined with all of the solar panels in Germany, Spain, Japan, and Italy… multiplied by three.

Before we pat ourselves on the back, we should look at where that energy is going now. It is estimated globally that 11% of household electricity use goes toward lighting; another 9% goes to computers and nonessential electronics (i.e., TVs) 8% of which is wasted due to vampire or standby power consumption. No one knows exactly how much energy is wasted this way but most experts agree that in developed countries it is typically 5-10% and a rising fraction in developing countries. Added up, vampire power accounts for around 1% of global CO2 emissions. The United States leads the world in many ways including the most energy wasted. The National Resource Defense Council says that US $19 billion a year in electricity bills is wasted because of devices drawing stand-by power and low efficacy lighting.

This is a daunting problem to say the least. While many organisations try to tackle this problem on a global, regional, or even national level with programs like Energy Star, or Europe’s ErP Directive; it is possible the solution is much more local.

Home automation and environmental control systems have the potential to reduce energy consumption in a home by a combined 20%. If every home in the world had this reduction, we would eliminate the need for nearly 54 Quads, or 3,050 Million tons of oil equivalent when you consider the systemic waste getting that energy to the home. That is enough energy to send the statue of liberty into orbit 160 times a year, or build more than 800 billion walls like the Great Wall in China. This puts manufacturers and integrators in the Residential Automation market at the front line of the battle for energy efficiency.

Core Brands stands behind this principle, creating ErP compliance, and BlueBOLT remote energy management features in many of our current power products, and all future power products.  As an industry, doing our part to reduce vampire power, enhance efficiency in lighting and HVAC systems, and encourage the use of presence/occupancy monitors will not only promote business, but it will leave a lasting mark in the ongoing record of human existence on this planet.

Chris Bundy is Senior Brand Manager at Core Brands.